Some musicians craft songs meant to elicit an emotion, and some fashion sonic mazes for the listener to get lost in. Over the course of a decade-plus career in shape-shifting psych, Brooklyn's Gang Gang Dance have found a way to do both. Their music seems less like songs constructed by songwriters and more like independent entities, throbbing before your eyes or between your ears, mutating and melting.
OPEN TO INTERPRETATION Every tune, no matter where it begins, soon plows full-barrel into the
realm of the ecstatic.
"I definitely am very into psychedelic music!" exclaimed keyboardist/bassist/founding GGDer Brian DeGraw when I spoke to him recently. No kidding: a cursory audio jaunt through the GGD catalog reveals a group obsessed with pitting the soft-focus blur of a pan-cultural blend of influences against the hard hit of percussion. "I like psychedelic things, in general," DeGraw says, "the idea of this other realm, this other layer where things are more out there and abstract and open to interpretation."
"Open to interpretation" is the only way to explain the sound of Gang Gang Dance. As likely to explode into a dancefloor-friendly rave-ish break as they are to disappear into a meandering chasm of sound, they take elements from genres as disparate as dubstep, shoegaze, hip-hop, Bollywood, grime, and straight-up jam band, and reconstruct it all so that those influences become almost impossible to trace. As DeGraw explains: "We're very aware of how awful it is to mimic another type of music. We don't want it to be like 'Oh, here's their West African song' or 'And here's their drum 'n' bass song.' It's supposed to be a sort of melting pot of everything we like, filtered through each of us until it becomes something else."
It's taken them a while to arrive at that "something else." DeGraw started GGD in 2001 from the ashes of DC boombox improv mavens the Cranium, with the addition of the fluid vocal stylings of Lizzi Bougatsos. Together, they have overseen numerous line-up changes since their move to New York City, along with a glacial shift from formless improv jamming to complex distillation; from hours of improv attempts to minutes-long tracks of finished material.
Their latest, this summer's Eye Contact (4AD) is GGD at their most focused, if "focused" can describe an album whose opener, "Glass Jar," is a nearly 12-minute space odyssey. And yet "Glass Jar" doesn't waste a microsecond. It begins with a voice proclaiming, "It's everything time," and then slowly, slowly erupts, moving from dub to spindly guitar to house music and back again. And in a sense, "everything time" sums up the band's approach in general, from the frenzied funkiness of "Romance Layers" to the exotic propulsion of "Adult Goth," all with Bougatsos's powerful wail slowly finding its way out of the labyrinthine arrangements.
The unifying theory behind their music is an almost stultifying positivity — every tune, no matter where it begins, soon plows full-barrel into the realms of the ecstatic. Few songs released in 2011 — pop, rock, whatever — will reach the glistening bliss of album-closer "Thru and Thru."